PERSON OF INTEREST: Michael Emerson on Finch’s Machine Struggles in Season 5
May 3, 2016 by Marisa Roffman
After nearly a year off our television screens, PERSON OF INTEREST is finally back.
Last season, Finch, Reese, and Root struggled to save the Machine as Samaritan operatives took them on. Team Machine was successful — but they had to compress the Machine into a briefcase and go on the run. Meanwhile, as Fusco attempted to take in Dominic and Elias, both men were killed in an ambush…which will leave Fusco with a lot of explaining to do.
I sat down with POI star Michael Emerson (Finch) as they were filming the eighth episode of the upcoming season to talk about how Team Machine is coping in season 5, rebuilding the Machine, and more.
Right now, the team is on the run, and the Machine has been massively compressed. As Finch sets out to reboot it, is he hoping they can just purely reboot it? Or is there a part of him that would like to rejigger some things?
Michael Emerson: I think both of those issues come up again. Naturally, he wants to restore the Machine; hopefully to something like it used to be, if that’s possible. But then there are difficulties along the way. The Machine has been so radically compressed and badly handled that there are glitches along the way. The Machine doesn’t come back easily, and it doesn’t come back right, in a way. There’s some drama, and a little bit of comedy to be had coming off that. And, of course, he and Root are working on the rebooting of the Machine together, and they have different philosophies about what this new Machine ought to be like. Should it be encumbered by limitations, or should it be open and free to correct itself, enlarge itself, empower itself like Samaritan does. That will be something that has to be argued out. We’ve been talking about it for the first seven episodes.
There was a fun video released of the Machine having some issues with its facial recognition. How much of that is playing out in season 5?
ME: There’s a bit of fun with Machine problems in pretty much every episode, I think. Though the general tone of season 5 is more grave than amusing, I’d say.
Is Finch looking to anyone else outside of Root for possible input on rebuilding the Machine?
ME: We met lots of people he admired over the course of five seasons — brilliant young hackers and people like that. But I think Mr. Finch is loathe to bring anyone into the inner circle anymore, because it means almost certain death for them. Only by the fluke of the Machine making perfect covers for them [is] Samaritan is still blind to them and their identities. But no one else is. And no one can be careful enough to escape detection. And their detection would lead to the detection of the team. They have to be loners.
It’s an isolated world for them.
ME: Absolutely. It’s cold and dark.
How are they handling the losses they’ve sustained?
ME: They’re just scrambling. They’re closing ranks, I guess, although their ranks were pretty closed, anyway. And there’s no way to bring new people into their circle without the new people getting killed. They kind of have to hunker down and hope they can survive, I suppose. It does look like an end game for them: they all keep their spirits up and the banter going, but I think everyone has a secret feeling that they’re overmatched and their days are numbered.
Does Finch have absolute trust in his team at this point?
ME: I think he trusts his comrades. I think the thing that haunts him is that his experiment may be a failure — that it has cost other people their lives.
Right now, Fusco is a bit of a wild card — he’s still out of the loop, but he’s closer than ever. What would it take for Finch to willingly share what’s going on with Fusco?
ME: It would take a lot for Mr. Finch to full inform Detective Fusco. Not because he doesn’t need or appreciate Fusco’s partnership, but just to save Fusco’s life. Fusco has to live out in the world in the open. Fusco is the only operative that can move freely in the daylight, and has a solid cover. They can’t risk that. He’s too valuable to risk.
He also has a kid, which I can imagine might complicate things at this point, too.
ME: Yeah, there’s all of that. Of course, being left out is a deal-breaker for him. There’s going to be a lot of friction on that front.
Going back to the cover identities, how much is that an issue in season 5? Is Finch having to above ground to teach when he’s not trying to rebuild the Machine?
ME: The cover identities still hold. I guess the idea is that Mr. Finch shows up at his day job, but we haven’t gone with him there very often. Mainly, we’re concerned with the dire crises that seem to spring up left and right around them every day.
Is the subway sanctuary still safe, or are they looking for something more secure?
ME: At some point, Mr. Finch talks about how he’s made the subway car itself mobile again, just in case they ever have to roll it out there. Where? I don’t know; underground, in the subway system, I suppose. But that connects to all sorts of other train systems.
ME: There’s probably a lot of [blindspots] — there are probably more underground.
What role will flashbacks play into the season?
ME: There’s a lot of stuff in the first few episodes about exploring the parent-child relationship between Mr. Finch and the Machine. I think that stuff is intriguing and moving to shoot. We see more, as we have in the past, of Mr. Finch training the Machine. Teaching it to think; teaching it about human-kind. Teaching it to make judgments about things. And you realize, as much as Mr. Finch would like to have a cold distance from everything — there’s nothing personal about this — I think we see eventually it does become personal. He can’t escape, just like anyone else, the feeling that this creature that apparently has feelings and talks and helps him, and is a child to him. It’s some kind of sentient entity. It may not be human, but what does it deserve? I don’t know. Mr. Finch is struggling with the questions human-kind will have to struggle with in a very short time, when we have artificial intelligence at our fingertips. He’s better equipped to deal with that than we will be. I fear for what happens when an A.I. is unleashed in our culture.
The interaction between Finch and the Machine near the end of “YHWH” was incredibly powerful. Did seeing the reaction to that scene — or even filming it — change the way you play those kinds of scenes in season 5?
ME: I don’t know if it’s changed the way that I play them. I’m thinking about them differently. They’re in a new context. And one that contains more questions and more tenderness, I suppose, despite his instincts to hold things in.
At this point in production, do you know where he’s going to end up, ultimately?
ME: I don’t have any idea of any inkling or feeling of where it’s heading. I guess that’s going to happen in a hurry. I don’t have a clue about what it will be.
I remember thinking that when I was on LOST, too: “Guys, how is this going to wrap up? You’ve only got four more episodes to shoot!” And then things started happening in the script, and it wrapped up pretty well. I’ll be curious to see. This is like waiting for someone to do a huge magic trick. I don’t even know what the terms of the trick will be. But I’m guessing it’s big, and has the potential to be dazzling; I hope it is.
Do you compare the LOST and POI experiences often?
ME: I think about them both. I mean, they both get talked about a lot in my life, in my world, as I’m running into people. And because both roles have some features in common: both were smart shows that contained a lot of puzzles and esoteric thought. I think they both are fun that way. I think both of them will be pretty challenging to wrap up.
The show has done some extraordinarily unusual episodes. Have you filmed anything like that this season?
ME: Yeah, what I would call conceptual scripts, we have some of that this season, yeah. They’re going to mess with some people’s minds as they go along. Part of me thinks, I hope CBS is ready for this.
What’s your process when you get those kinds of scripts that are so different than the rest? Do you approach them any different?
ME: No, because I know my playing is going to be what I do in other episodes. I enjoy reading them. They’re a pleasure, because they’re so smart, and they’re so puzzle-like. I admire the minds that will cook those things up. They’re often tricky to shoot, and sometimes not in an exciting way. “If-Then-Else” was so repetitive, with little differences that were sometimes hard to keep track of. But as I read it, I thought this was one of the most brilliant TV scripts I’ve ever seen, so it made me want to do this.
Episode 100 is also around the corner. As you’re filming episode 98, do you know yet what 100 will bring?
ME: No, I don’t. Episode 10 has some sort of cataclysmic event. I’m not sure what it is. But something big — and I’m going to guess terrible — happens in 10.
What does the 100th episode milestone mean to you?
ME: It seems like we made a lot of episodes, so 100, that’s a huge number. And I can’t tell you the name of the plot line of a dozen of them, to tell you the truth. It’s just the pace of our work here is kind of intense; it doesn’t allow you the leisure to sit back and enjoy it that much. Just about the time you think you’ve gotten on top of how to play the first episode, then the second episode arrives on your computer and you realize, now you’re behind again. It’s like [I LOVE LUCY’s] Lucy working at the candy factory: the stuff is coming at you too fast.
PERSON OF INTEREST premieres tonight at 10 PM on CBS. New episodes air Mondays and Tuesdays at 10 PM on CBS.
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